Iranian FM Denies Wanting to 'Wipe Israel Off the Map'

Says presindent Ahmadinejad meant removing the regime in Israel, which Iran doesn't recognize.

BRUSSELS - Iran's foreign minister denied on Monday that Tehran wanted to see Israel "wiped off the map," saying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been misunderstood.

"Nobody can remove a country from the map. This is a misunderstanding in Europe of what our president mentioned," Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference, speaking in English, after addressing the European Parliament.

"How is it possible to remove a country from the map? He is talking about the regime. We do not legally recognize this regime," he said.

Ahmadinejad caused a storm of condemnation last October after Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted him as telling a conference: "Israel must be wiped off the map".

Mottaki's comments came as he sought to assure EU lawmakers and institutions that Tehran had no ambitions to make nuclear weapons, despite widespread mistrust in Europe and the United States of the reasons behind Iran's nuclear program.

Iran says it is for energy production only.

Mottaki also acknowledged the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were killed by Nazi Germany, despite Ahmadinejad saying in December that it was a myth.

He told the parliament's foreign affairs committee, speaking through an interpreter: "Our friends in Europe stress that such a crime has taken place and they have stated certain figures that were actually suffered. We have no argument about that, but what we are saying here is to put right such a horrific event, why should the Muslims pay a price?"

The political leader of militant group Hamas, which won Palestinian legislative elections last month, was in Tehran on Monday for talks with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Mottaki said it was natural such talks should take place, while making clear he rejected the West's labelling of Hamas, which is committed to Israel's destruction, as a terrorist group.

"We believe that those people who make efforts to free their countries should not be regarded as terrorists," he said.

"The leaders in that government and parliament have been invited by many Arab countries such as Egypt, and other Islamic countries, even Russia, so it is natural they should also visit Iran."

He declined to speculate on how ties between a Hamas-led Palestinian government and Tehran would develop.